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'Show' continues without Canseco

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© St. Petersburg Times, published August 8, 2000

Hit Show, an expensive and lavishly promoted off-Broadway production, flopped long before, ironically, Jose Canseco got a New York calling.

Greg Vaughn pretty much did his part. Fred McGriff smacked about as expected. But how well would the Beatles act have worked if there'd been just two of them? Not even Rolls Royces elegantly roll on two wheels.

Too much soured.

Vinny Castilla went flat, followed by lame. Canseco damaged a foot, then became powerfully inadequate, while saying his bad back was good again. Hit Show had a brief, unimposing run. Take down those interstate billboards. Scrap the muscle-bound posters.

Good idea, bad fortune.

Everybody was so bullish in spring, which is baseball normalcy. Canseco talking 50 home runs, maybe 60. Meaning it. I remember writing that if Hit Show could pound 130 homers, it would be okay if the four whiffers of note combined for 500 strikeouts.

Shortfall ... long summer.

As the foursome was busted up Monday, the brotherhood of McGriff-Vaughn-Castilla-Canseco had whiffed a mere 268 times, mostly because Jose and Vinny missed a multitude of cuts due to heavy DL time. Worst of all, H.S. homer aggregate was a shockingly low 54. As a group, no threat at all to Mark McGwire's record 70.

Time for new mixing.

With 52 games to go, Tampa Bay's puffiest hope for a hot, unfulfilling season is to catch Baltimore, overtaking Orioles who could pass for buzzards, creating enough August/September goodness to get all the way to AL East next-to-last place.

Right now, we'll take it.

We'll see if post-Hit Show nights become more rewarding, with young bats Steve Cox and Jose Guillen locked into Larry Rothschild's everyday lineup. Flexibility should greatly increase. How many changes could the manager make with McGriff able to play nothing but first base and Canseco being an across-the-board defensive liability?

Since back surgery last season, Canseco has shown far more class than blast. His au revoir to Tropicana Field was done Monday with that handsome smile. No regrets. No complaints. Jose splattered the D-Rays organization, teammates, the Tampa Bay area and even media with kind words.

At 36, he seems so removed from a boyish, even childish Canseco with the Oakland A's of a while ago, when his reputation for Herculean homers was diluted by stories of driving too fast, getting cute with cops, battling with his spouse and living in the wildest, fastest lane.

Jose the Ray was a terrific guy.

He says those old A's tales were exaggerated. I'll accept that. But, sadly, the big chap from Miami became a fragile, free-swinging D-Rays liability. Couldn't field. With a frail footsie, Canseco could barely outrun Vince Naimoli.

Perhaps the Yankees, now re-stocking Bronx shelves for a pennant push, can get a couple of meaningful pops from those still-mighty biceps, but Jose had become a D-Rays investment that didn't make much sense.

Twelve homers in 322 at-bats since back surgery. Production more fitting Miguel Cairo or John Flaherty than Hammerin' Jose. Before that trip to the operating room, his career brought a homer for every 14.85 at-bats. Since then, one every 26.8.

Canseco still looks like Goliath but his feet, shoulders and back are now from the Achilles catalog. Word was, he booked three seats on this morning's flight to New York. Jose will sit in B, his left bicep resting in A and the right one in C.

Still some stud.

I'll be pulling for Canseco. Maybe some night in September, or even October, we'll see Mr. Big Arms scrape Yankee Stadium's facade with a game-winning homer or two. He deserves some sweet luck.

Of far plumper concern is how Canseco's former team, your D-Rays, will wind up departing this season of medical quandaries and Hit Show brownout. If, in the ensuing 52 games, Cox and Guillen continue to blossom and Castilla adequately heals and stunningly rediscovers his pre-Tampa Bay homer stroke, there will be vastly restoked prospects for next spring.

They've got to get better. D-Rays medical luck has to improve, we keep saying. Canseco was a smart 1999 deal. A comparative modern-baseball financial bargain, he brought well-flexed celebrity to the Trop. For half a season, there was old-style No. 33 crunch. Jose led the American League in homers at the All-Star break.

But then came the inevitable Canseco physical breakdown. This time, a bum back. Surgery went well. In the off-season, Jose out-homered everybody in a Las Vegas smackoff. Hope was remustered. Hit Show prospects were seized.

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